An Interview with Rep. Dennis Baxley, the Legislator Responsible for Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law
It’s pretty funny that Rep. Dennis Baxley, the guy who helped push Florida’s 2005 Stand Your Ground law (or Make My Day as its affectionately referred to in other states), is also the owner of several funeral homes across the Sunshine State. Although violent crime has decreased in Florida since Baxter egineered the legislation, that doesn’t necessarily mean less people are getting shot or maimed unlawfully. One of the biggest problems with Stand Your Ground laws and their offshoots, according to some law experts, is that they can deter police from charging assailants in iffy situations, because the law grants immunity to citizens who act in “self defense.” This unfortunate circumstance, coupled with the highly discussed probability of racial prejudice, is one of the reasons George Zimmerman (a guy people keep telling me is Hispanic, even though he has the same last name as Bob Dylan) has yet to be arrested.
Honestly, the notion that Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old black kid walking around a gated community in Sanford, Florida, got shot on Feb. 26 simply for being a “coon” (as Zimmeran is suspected to have referred to him during the now infamous 911 call) in the wrong place at the wrong time is not that shocking to me. Sadly, unarmed black men get shot all the fucking time. When I heard about Martin, I couldn’t help but think of slain brothers Sean Bell, Malcolm Ferguson, Amadou Diallo, and most recently Remarley Graham.
However, the Stand Your Ground immunity makes Martin’s case different from those older or lesser-known incidents of unarmed shootings. Justice is being averted here not because the shooter belongs to a the club that is also tasked with solving the crime, but because of this application or misapplication of Stand Your Ground.
Stand Your Ground extends from the Castle Doctrine, which is common law that grants citizens the right to defend their homes with force. The Florida Statutes of Justifiable Force broadens this right outside of the home to apply to altercations anywhere the invidiual in question is rightfully inhabiting at any given time. It also removes the “duty to retreat,” which has always been a caveat to the right of self defense. So, the gist of Stand Your Ground is that, if you feel threatened, as 28-year-old Zimmerman claims he was from the 80 pound-lighter Trayvon, you can “stand your ground” and respond with bullets, regardless of the severity of the threat posed. What you can’t do is go around pursuing people and then shooting them, which is what it appears that Zimmerman did from the evidence circulating in the media. If you want to live in a western staring some asshole who thinks he’s Clint Eastwood, move to Texas please. Then maybe the rest of the country can be at peace, knowing that every piece of garbage with a gun will be shooting other pieces of garbage with guns thus making the world a better place.
Anyhow, I discussed the curious law with Baxley, its legislative, over the phone yesterday and today. I have to say that I was surprised he was so willing to talk. He was genial to me, remorseful for Trayvon and his family, and extremely proud of this work. But is that enough? I’ll let you decide.
How does Stand Your Ground apply to the Trayvon Martin shooting?
Well, first of all I want to extend my sympathy to Trayvon’s family. The problem here is not with the right to defend yourself in the Castle Doctrine. What’s happened is not something that is authorized by that statute. The Castle Doctrine itself, I think is a sound principal.
Fucking tragic and conveniently legal.